Techniques, Methods and Swimwear To Keep Up With The Pack

Courtesy of advertising partner Original Watermen

There are many things a long distance swimmer can do to improve his or her performance in an endurance race. A few of them are simple, often overlooked, changes you can make to your routine that can get you closer to the front of the pack while training and competing. Outside of constant and rigorous training these simple mental and strategic adjustments can make your next race or practice a huge success.

Technique is everything – undoubtedly the most important aspect to swimming that often gets overlooked. You could take some of the best ultra marathon runners in the world and throw them into a body of water to a race against casual weekend  ‘masters’ swimmers, who have had some training on technique; and the masters swimmers would win every time.

The goal of distance swimming isn’t to slap your arms onto the surface of the water as quickly as possible. Instead, the goal should be to glide through the water as streamlined as possible while exerting energy at a constant rate and rhythm. I won’t get into the nitty gritty techniques but rather the much larger concepts of both mental and physical discipline that are often ignored because of the adrenaline come race time.

Know your equipment – This is another factor that often goes under the radar. If you’re not comfortable in a race then you will surely be distracted, constantly thinking about how uncomfortable you are in a swimsuit rather than the race at hand. There is a lot of science showing how compression can benefit athletes on land, but now some watersports and apparel companies are beginning to take note and offer compression swimwear for triathletes and long distance swimmers alike. All the benefits of traditional compression shorts carry over into the water with these Watermen Shorts.

Get a good wetsuit that fits and will not choke you during a race. Experiment combining your wetsuit with compression swimsuits and other compression swimwear such as performance rash guards. And if you race in warmer waters or wetsuits are not allowed, these rash guards and Watermen Short Jammers can be worn on their own.

Goggles are nice to have so be sure to select a pair that suit the conditions of the day; ie: clear lenses on cloudier days and darker lenses for sunny days.

Reach and Glide – Stretch your body out each stroke. Remember, this is not a sprint, so each stroke you take should be carefully timed with a glide and some kicking. Think streamlined like a dolphin and see if you can gain a few more inches each stroke just by gliding longer; then try synchronizing the glide with your kicks.

Breathing – Listen to it, try and time your breaths with your strokes. i.e. three long gliding strokes to one breath. Some of the best distance swimmers I have interviewed try and tune out the task at hand once they reach a rhythm and in a sense make a music beat out of their kicking, breathing and stroking. Also, breathing plays a very important role with staying on course while on long distance swims. Many new swimmers will stray off course toward the opposite side from which they are breathing from. Try to alternate your breathing from side to side if you have trouble keeping a straight line. Try not to look up and around to see where you are in the pack or where you are located on the course. This completely stops your momentum and you can cause yourself more unnecessary stress.

Kicking – Don’t forget to kick. This may seem simple enough but it’s a major factor when you’re trying to remain as streamlined as possible and stay on top of the water. It’s a lot easier to swim with your legs helping you push through the water rather than dragging behind you. However, legs burn a tremendous amount of oxygen and energy so find a balance that keeps you in tune with your body’s needs.

Pace yourself – Remember to pace yourself. Don’t go out too strong only to flop in the second half, pace yourself for the entire distance of the event.

Drafting – Call it what you want but everyone does it. Drafting is very important in big events with lots of swimmers in the water. Use it to your advantage to conserve valuable energy and bring yourself up with the top competitors. This practice helps reduce the natural drag you get from your swimwear. Following closely to someone who’s faster than you also pushes you to try to keep up with him or her, whereas otherwise you would just be staring into the void that is often encountered on long ocean water swims. Keep your head down. Looking up at someone’s feet creates drag so keep that head down and think like a tuna fish drafting off another tuna in a school.

Know the course – The course and constantly changing conditions are what make open water distance swimming so much fun. Go down to the course location before the day of the event and look for problem areas you could encounter on your swim; kelp or algae patches, rocks, shallow spots, murky water, etc. You should begin checking weather, tides and wind predictions at least a week before the event.

Tides play a huge role in harbor swims and you can either use the tides to your advantage or suffer the disadvantage. Water encounters friction when it runs along rocks, so if you’re swimming against a current try to safely swim close to the rocks. The opposite goes for swimming with a current. Find the deepest part of the channel and that’s where will be the strongest current.  

Wind and waves – Wind and waves can be your friend or your worst enemy. If possible try to conserve energy when swimming into the wind and waves, so you’ll have a greater advantage when you turn the corner on a course and have some stored energy. You can then use the wind and waves to your advantage. Waves are usually a big problem with flat water swimmers when they do races that involve crossing the surf zone. A lot of times I will see people just swim straight into oncoming waves expecting to blast on through. Waves are thousands of pounds of moving water… even equipped with streamlined compression swimwear, you simply will not win! Getting pummeled by a wave and trying to fight it underwater burns insane amounts of energy and can even end a competitor’s race if they’re not comfortable in the surf zone to begin with. Try diving down early before the wave approaches you and swim underneath it. Try to grab sand if possible to help hold your position. Wait until you hear the wave pass overhead and push off the bottom with both feet. This will give you a push start versus your competitors who are trying to fight the wave that just separated half the pack. Learn how to identify rip currents and use them to your advantage when going out; watch out for and avoid them when you’re coming back in to finish the race.

Remember to glide with the waves.

Hope this helps YOU Earn Your Salt.

Your friends at Original Watermen

About Original Waterman

Like so many great things in the 70’s, we started in the back of a VW bus. Surfer and lifeguard, Ken Miller and future wife Jen, began making and selling water trunks. The first customers were Carlsbad locals and eventually the State of California lifeguards signed up for 36 red shorts.

Since those early days we have evolved and grown and eventually outfitted over 1700 organizations from local and state agency lifeguards and fire fighters to military special forces. Original Watermen, as a company, was created with a singular vision: provide the best quality, fit, and performance in every garment. Few industries have the opportunity to test their mettle each time a great set rolls in. We’re fortunate; we do.
At Original Watermen we measure our success by the performance of our products and the satisfaction of our customers. If you’re new to us, welcome aboard…it’s time to earn your salt.

Courtesy of Original Waterman, a SwimSwam partner.

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